The Last Battle
"One of my favorite Sufi poems... says that God long ago drew a circle in the sand exactly around the spot where you are standing right now. I was never not coming here. This was never not going to happen."
― Elizabeth Gilbert
I. Never Not
Rick Castle drags air in through his lungs.
Time has slowed down to this. Breath if it comes. The rattle in his lungs as the dark numbness spreads through his chest. The strange heat at his back.
Oh. He's lying in his own blood.
His fingers spasm around her hand. Cold, her hand is cold.
Her hand is cold.
He opens his eyes and finds hers on his own, an unwavering flame. Even as it dies.
Blood smears the floor, the baseboards, her fingers in his own. Blood cold and hot together. And with it the pain that cripples him.
But she's dying.
And he's not dying fast enough.
Her lips part, lashes not. Eyes closing.
"Kate." His voice is a garbled thing. He feels the biggest pieces stuck in his chest where the pain grates, abrading flesh and splintering bone. Movement is blade on blade, making gristle of his insides. "Kate."
She's dying. She won't open her eyes.
"Kate." His shoulder is a fire with teeth, gnawing deep to his sternum the pain. But this is not death, this is slow torture, and if she can withstand two bullets in the space of these past few years, he can save her.
This is not how his life ends. After hers, with hers. No. No.
"Lucy," he calls. "Lucy." Panic is curling in his slick guts, waking him up, scattering the numbness. "Lucy. Lucy on." What the fuck did she rename it, what was the name? "Linus!"
"How can I be of service to you, sir?"
He sucks in a ragged breath, nostrils flaring for oxygen, hearing it in his ears, pounding in his head. Staring at her. Kate. "Call - Twelfth Precinct. Dispatch. Call-"
"Dispatch is not a known-"
"Damn you. Twelfth," he grates out, desperation tightening his throat. Her face is chalk. He has to enunciate. "Call Twelfth Precinct."
The ringing fills the apartment, ringing, the tone vibrating through the floorboards and into him until it feels as if his bones are shaking. Beckett. Her face is turned to him, fingers limp in his hand. The beauty mark on her cheek is too much.
He's pain everywhere but it's not alive; it's a weight, heavy, dragging. Sinking down through the floor.
He kicks a leg out and hooks at the base of the island, forces his body to roll-
Sweat washes over him so fast he's dizzy lying on the floor. He's going to be sick. Everything's ringing.
"Who is this?"
Castle bites off the groan, forehead pressed to Kate's cold cheek. "Officer down," he croaks. His voice breaks on volume, tries again. "Off-officer down. Badge - badge 41319-"
"Shot," he calls out. He's gonna pass out. Oh God. "Both - both of us. Shot. Fuck." He's fighting a losing battle. Blackness is swamping everything, falling down hard and fast.
"Mr Castle? Stay on the line, please. Mr Castle, we have officers and a bus enroute-"
He might be dying after all.
At first it's a girl.
Pixie. Alexis's round face, like his own, but his wife's color, shades of Kate. At first the girl, smiling and tipping her head to the side, facial expressions he knows from other places, other memories.
Strange. I thought it'd be a boy.
And then it is a boy.
Then it's two boys, cherubic, mischievous, twins.
Why did it have to be twins? Now he knows it's a dream, a vision portending the empty spaces. Ghosts. His mind playing tricks on him to keep him from panicking, to keep him from knowing the truth. The reality.
He slides deeper into the dreamworld.
Breakfast, summer sun through the windows, New York City's nonexistent birds calling, the three little ones circling, steadying, finding their places for an act that won't be played on any stage but this one.
His wife, beautiful, soft in a way she never is in real life. She has coffee, the steam curling, and her hair curves in the same winding loop as the vapor as she leans forward. His wife, this scene, the soft focus, warm edges, the girl tilting her head again, the boys devils and angels, the pearled gates swung open.
It's all a dream.
None of this is real.
Seven, he says. Seven.
Later, years, in the unchanging bits and jumble, seven, he says and only then does he realize it's an answer.
How would you rate your pain today?
It's after the darkness drops like a curtain that he finds the real question:
What is today?
But it's too late. No one is here to listen.
He rates his pain. Off the scale.
He'd rather die in dreams.
He wakes after all.
Washed through with weak light, a pale landscape of white.
His toe moves and agony rides with it. His mouth is dry when he cries out, and everything is broken.
He wakes after all.
"Hey, Rick, you need to stay still. Don't try to get up. They just took you off the vent."
He wakes after all.
A hand in his, fine-boned, strong. "It's alright, gonna be alright. You need to sleep."
He wakes after all.
His voice scratches out. Desperation. "Kate."
A hand touches his cheek and he realizes he's crying. It's not his wife. Who-
"Later, later, time for that later. You need to rest. Sleep."
"Beckett," he chokes-
He can't wake after all.
When it does coalesce and firm into something he can grasp with both hands, that's what he finds.
Jim Beckett. Sitting at his bedside.
"No," he groans. Jim is here. No.
Her father stands quickly and takes his hand, presses back on his left shoulder. "You'll hurt yourself."
"No," he chokes. "Oh, God-"
"It's my turn. They're with her, and it's my turn, and they'll have my hide if I let something happen to you on my watch."
"Oh, God," he gasps. "Kate."
Jim comes up short. Thunder first in his face, and then the clear wash after rain. "Oh, Rick. No. We're just taking turns. Swapping out. That's all."
His body twists. "Kate-"
"Alive. She's alive. Thanks to you. Third surgery. Alive."
"Alive," he echoes. No signal reaches his brain. "Alive."
"At St Vincent's, the trauma center, ICU," Jim says. Like it's an explanation. Like it makes sense.
Castle crashes back to the bed.
Heaves breaths that burn.
"She's working on it," Jim tells him. Words. Cohesion now, moments stringing together like cheap beads on a string, one to one to another, rough plastic.
"Kate," he breathes, closes his eyes. Listening. "I don't..."
"No one does," Jim gravels. "You're damn lucky. You both. Extensive blood loss, massive trauma, lucky."
Their breathing is the same, reality hitting, and Castle opens his eyes. "I'm okay now."
"Not quite, but you're on the mend."
"I want to see her."
"You can't." Jim sits down. Face closed.
There is no more conversation.
He drifts there, untethered.
But the pain in his body is not a dream.